The New York State Bar Association this week called on state legislators, the courts and advocacy groups to undertake specific measures to enhance the prosecution of human traffickers and focus more attention on the care and treatment for victims.
“It is unconscionable that nearly 150 years after our country outlawed slavery, thousands of children and adults continue to be victims of human trafficking,” said State Bar President David M. Schraver of Rochester (Nixon Peabody). “As attorneys, we have a collective obligation to assist the victims and end this horrendous practice.”
The association has released a report prepared by its Special Committee on Human Trafficking which examines the problem of human trafficking, evaluates the effectiveness of existing state laws and recommends solutions.
“Thousands of people – often women and children – are taken from their families and forced into hard labor or prostitution by human traffickers,” the report states. “They are often threatened and physically abused, and issues such as immigration status can render some victims especially vulnerable to intimidation.”
In 2007, the state Legislature enacted New York’s first anti-trafficking law. However, the report notes, “New York’s anti-trafficking laws still fall short … of reducing, if not eradicating, labor trafficking.”
The report includes a recommendation that the state establish a civil private right of action that would allow victims to bring cases to civil court. This would undercut the profit motive of the traffickers and provide compensation to victims. Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia allow for a private right of action.
The report also contains a list of recommendations specific to three distinct groups who fall prey to labor trafficking, child trafficking and sex trafficking. Among the recommendations:
• Provide monetary rewards and whistleblower immunity to employees and individuals in cases where suspected labor trafficking leads to prosecution.
• Enact an enterprise disclosure law requiring businesses with worldwide revenues exceeding $100 million to pledge that under penalty of law, they do not engage in human trafficking.
• Eliminate the requirement to show coercion in the charging of sex trafficking when an adult intentionally advances or profits from the prostitution of a minor.
• Raise the age of criminal responsibility to age 18 in order to eliminate the criminal prosecution of minor victims of sex trafficking.
• Amend mandated reporter requirements to include human trafficking.
• Amend child protective provisions of the Family Court Act and state Social Services Law to explicitly include child victims of human trafficking.
• Reclassify sex trafficking as a Class B violent felony, expand eavesdropping and video surveillance authority and create an affirmative defense for trafficking victims.
• Amend the Vacating Convictions Law to include non-prostitution offenses, eliminate the due diligence requirements and develop uniform court rules to protect the identities of trafficking victims.
• Expand the victim referral process to the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance for services to include providers of social or legal services in a position to identify sex trafficking victims.
The Special Committee on Human Trafficking was established in June 2012 by then-State Bar President Seymour W. James, Jr. (The Legal Aid Society in New York City) and has continued under President Schraver.
Committee Co-Chairs Bernice K. Leber of New York City (Arent Fox) and Sandra Rivera of Albany (Manatt, Phelps & Phillips) said the report highlights the extent of the problem in New York and the need for changes in state and national laws.
“While statistics show that half of those trafficked are adults, there is a growing concern and recognition that more than half the victims are children who continue to be exploited after they reach the age of majority,” said Leber, a former State Bar president. “This report is seminal insofar as we looked to the continuum of those who are trafficked as youth and continue being trafficked into their adult years. It also addresses specific problems in the manner in which our justice system and government currently treat the victims, whether they are men, women or children.”
Nationwide, human trafficking is a $32 billion-a-year business. In New York, estimates list nearly 12,000 cases of human trafficking between 2000 and 2010. Since 2007, state officials have confirmed 224 cases of human trafficking, half in New York City. A Hofstra University study found that between 2000 and 2010, about 58 percent of nearly 11,300 sex trafficking victims in New York were under age 18. For more information, including a link to the report, visit: www.nysba.org/HumanTrafficking.
The New York State Bar Association, with 76,000 members, is the largest voluntary state bar association in the country. It was founded in 1876.